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Crowd

Alex had never liked crowds. This probably stemmed back to being briefly separated from their mother during the Christmas rush as young child. They had been jostled by a throng of passers-by, unable to see through the densely packed crowd, who barely seemed to notice the child they were shoving past. For a brief moment Alex wondered with utter horror if they had become invisible, but then mum had appeared with her arms open and calling their name, cutting through the people like Moses through the Red Sea. It would appear that in the twenty years gone by nothing much had changed, except for the fact that this time Alex was alone.

Alex gripped the joystick and gently maneuvered themselves into the stream of pedestrians making their way towards the train station on the way to work. Their perspective from the wheelchair wasn’t that much different from that of a young child; Alex still had to duck out of the way of bags and cigarettes, dodge the self-righteous business moguls who only ever seemed to travel at hyper-caffeinated speeds, and the view was rarely something to write home about. Fortunately, Alex knew the route well, including where to dodge pot holes and jutted paving slabs, and managed to avoid getting caught in a rut, which would not only have been painful, but would have also resulted in “helpful” saints coming to their rescue (and inadvertently making things worse).

The crowd slowed as Alex approached the train station, which bottle-necked the throng of people all moving in one direction, and they had to pull the joystick back rapidly to avoid giving the man in front of them sore ankles. A rucksack swung through their field of vision, and Alex felt the breeze as it sped by, close to their face. If the owner noticed, there was certainly no apology.

Alex drifted to the edge of the crowd, digging their tickets out of their bag with their left hand while steering with their right. They were well-practiced at undoing and redoing the zip one-handed while on the move. A man in high-vis was arguing about something with a member of staff, and his bike was blocking the only gate wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair. When Alex politely asked them to let her past, they were met with grumbles advising them to be patient, and Alex had to bite their tongue not to retaliate that their boss probably wouldn’t like them being late into the office either.

Alex parked themselves in the usual spot on the platform and switched off their wheelchair, to prevent someone accidentally knocking it, or even “playing” with it while they waited for the train. A few minutes later it pulled into the station, and of course the attendant who should have provided the ramp was nowhere in sight. By the time the ramp arrived, the train was packed tighter than a tin of sardines, and Alex was told that they would just have to be patient and wait for the next train. This was precisely the reason Alex always left far more time on her commute than necessary; this was hardly an exceptional circumstance. As the train Alex should have been on pulled away, it, of course, began to rain.

The rain quickly became torrential and was pouring off of Alex’s hair in streams that soaked their back. Water dripped over their face making it hard to breathe properly, and their trousers were plastered to their legs. By the time the next train arrived, Alex was soaked to the skin.

Fortunately, this time the attendant was already waiting with the ramp and Alex was one of the first to enter the train. They gently kicked someone’s bags out of the lone wheelchair spot and reversed in, ignoring the discontent grumbles as whoever owned the bag was forced to use the luggage rack instead.

As they started moving, the packed carriage was already becoming warm and humid as rain-soaked passengers began to dry off. Alex had a few stops before their destination, so dug their phone out of their bag, plugged in headphones, and began scrolling. A few minutes in there was a muffled noise.

“Um, emscoose me, ey, ello.”

Alex looked up and begrudgingly removed an ear piece as a stranger leant uncomfortably close to them.

“Hi, I think it’s very brave getting on a train in your condition. Don’t you need someone to look after you?”

“I’m fine, thanks,” Alex managed sharply before starting to re-insert their earphone.

“No need to be rude, just looking out for vulnerable members of our society.”

Alex turned the volume up.

Eventually the train began to slow down for what would be Alex’s stop, and they had to loudly and clearly announce their presence as they inched forward, people stumbling clumsily into the way in their panic at seeing someone disabled using a train.

The doors slid open and a ramp appeared almost immediately, much to Alex’s relief. Once it was securely in place commuters immediately began to barge past, grumbling at how difficult it was to walk down the steep ramp, or quite literally just stepping over it as they moved down the platform. Eventually there was a brief window of opportunity, and Alex managed to make it down onto the platform without breaking any ankles, however much they would have liked that.

They thanked the attendant and started making their way towards the single gate they could use, ticket in hand. This time it was a suitcase blocking the access, but this time Alex didn’t ask, and just shoved the case to one side. The station clock, when it became visible to them through the masses, showed that they would only just make it to the office on time. They pressed the joystick forward, and darted out into the city.

Emma Steer

Emma is a gender-fluid bisexual who just so happens to use a powered wheelchair, and lives in Leeds, England with their husband. They work as a data handler in medical research, and outside of work like to play video games and attend local wrestling shows. They are the author of Diary of
Disabled Person (diaryofadisabledperson.blog), an award-winning blog documenting their life with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis and endometriosis. You can follow them @diaryofadisabledperson on Facebook and Instagram, and @WheelsofSteer on their very sweary Twitter.

This is part of the Sister Stories series.

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